“Replace fear of the unknown with curiosity.”

Here’s a short blurb on how studying abroad and traveling changed me in a BIG way:

I still remember the summer before going away for college. Despite moving only 40-odd miles from home (less than an hour away by car), I felt anxious and nervous. I’ve always been the worrying type, panicking about all the things that could go wrong. I wasn’t excited about leaving home; I dreaded it because I was scared. I was the first one of my siblings to move out of the house, so I didn’t have anyone older to turn to who had been through this before. Despite my best attempts, the first year of college was rough for me. I refer to it as my “lost year” – the year I’d rather forget, or better yet, do over.

The following summer, I decided I needed to do something new to make up for the lack of new experiences during my freshman year. I signed up for an international volunteer project in Concord, NH. It was my first time traveling alone and the thought of being alone in Boston for 5 hours terrified me (so I mostly wandered the Common since I couldn’t get lost if I stayed in one place). This project was also my first taste of cultural exchanges, and interacting with people whose backgrounds were completely different from my own. This experience pushed me to study abroad.

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Fast forward two years to Fall 2011, and I was finally preparing for my semester in Spain. Once again, I was venturing off alone and I didn’t know a single person who would be in my program. I felt similarly afraid, but it wasn’t the same type of fear like when I was moving to Irvine. I was mostly worried about the little details and logistics like transportation and packing, but not the big picture: being alone in a new place where I did not know anyone.

Studying abroad and being on my own for a good chunk of that first month, as well as traveling to new cities all the time without much of a plan, without knowing all the details, helped me to develop more self-confidence and independence. I think I will always be the type who needs to triple check my packing list, but as for being alone in a new place? Now I know that I can handle it.

The next chapter of my life will be starting soon. New job, new city, new state entirely. Normally I would be freaking out about everything I have to do and how I’m going to adjust to a city where I only  know a few people, but I’m so excited for all the things to come. I’m anxious for this time to pass so I can begin. I can’t wait to learn my way around the streets, meet new people, discover favorite cafes or restaurants (I hope!), galleries, museums, whatever… maybe even become more outdoors-y and hike around… the possibilities are endless. I’ve replaced fear of the unknown with curiosity, and I like it.

There’s only one thing that I’m nervous about: Not knowing when I’ll come back to California. It could be in the summer. It could be later.  I’m working to accept that I will be far away from my family and closest friends, for quite a long time (I don’t expect to fly home any time soon). Being in a different time zone, although it’ll be a small difference compared to studying abroad. Whatever happens, I know I can handle it because I’ve done it before.

Everything is going to be okay.

Jennifer

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